Hobbyhorse Revolution Directed by Selma Vilhunen

Hobbyhorse Revolution Directed by Selma Vilhunen
Courtesy of Hot Docs
It takes about 10 minutes of the oddly fascinating Hobbyhorse Revolution to see the subjects' love of hobbyhorses as anything other than ridiculous. It's only when you learn their individual stories that you can see how the pastime serves as a therapeutic outlet and an opportunity for outcasts to bond with like-minded individuals. It may not be as accepted by the mainstream as other activities, but who cares what others when one is busy following their passion?

There are over 10,000 participants in Finland's budding hobbyhorse craze alone — most of them young girls — and the film mainly focuses on three of these enthusiasts. Aisku was kicked out of her house by her mother for sneaking out regularly and lives in a foster home. She's a seasoned pro at hobbyhorse competitions and also spends a lot of time coaching younger competitors. This means she's frequently occupied with instructing girls on hobbyhorses to keep a tighter rein on their horse and imploring them to prance in the correct manner.

One of these students is Elsa. She's been a victim of bullying in the past and clearly views the activity as an escape from the cruelty of the real world, even though it can sometimes invite even more bullying. She found solace in riding a therapy horse as a child and now finds hobbyhorses filling the void that was left when that horse passed away. Alisa, meanwhile, is rather adept at editing videos of the hobbyhorse craze and has amassed quite a social media following thanks to her skills. Yes, her parents found it all a little strange at first but have since come around.

It's admittedly a little unusual how the girls continuously refer to the hobbyhorses as if they are real horses, assigning them different personalities and doting on them as if this were a Chistopher Guest mockumentary. However, it's heartening to see a community of young girls bond over their shared interest, finding empowerment, camaraderie and a great deal of imagination in an activity that others may not understand.

It's only at the hobbyhorse competitions where we finally see why all the coaching and attention to detail really matters. We watch as Aisku impresses the judges in the dressage portion of one event, though a dispute at another competition leads to Aisku getting a little disillusioned by the process. At least she can still take pride in watching the girls that she coached compete, whether it's in the dressage or an obstacle course that sees girls leaping over bars like in a real equestrian event.

It all makes for an interesting glimpse into a world that many likely didn't even know existed, but there's unfortunately not much of a narrative drive to the documentary. We're left perhaps wishing the film had instead focused on several girls preparing to compete against each other (bringing it back to Guest mockumentary territory), rather than simply observing a few stray members of the phenomenon. But it's rewarding nevertheless to discover a subculture that provides girls a valuable respite from the inevitable pitfalls of growing up.